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One of the best perks of airline elite status is scoring business and first class upgrades. However, each U.S. airline uses a different system for top-tier elite upgrades, and United recently revamped its elite upgrade system. In December 2019, United ditched Global Premier Upgrades and Regional Premier Upgrades for a new system called United PlusPoints.
Rather than awarding upgrade certificates eligible for specific regions, United upper-tier elites now earn PlusPoints that can be used for a wide variety of upgrades. You can use PlusPoints for things such as domestic first-class upgrades or to upgrade a discount economy ticket to Polaris business class on long-haul flights.
There's a lot to learn about how to use United PlusPoints. So, let's dig right into the details.
What are United PlusPoints?
United PlusPoints are an upgrade currency that United upper-tier elites (Premier Platinum and Premier 1K) can apply to upgrade a flight to a better cabin. Eligible elites can use PlusPoints to upgrade their own flights or flights for any other traveler — even if you aren't flying with them.
At first, the United PlusPoints system may seem confusing and unnecessarily complex. However, once you learn the system, you'll find that PlusPoints is a much more fair system than the previous certificate-based upgrade system.
Before the change, you'd need to use a Global Premier Upgrade to upgrade to business class whether you booked a premium economy or discount economy ticket. Now, you'll pay fewer PlusPoints to upgrade to business class from premium economy than from discount economy. PlusPoints also allows elites to upgrade to premium economy without "wasting" an upgrade certificate that could've been used to upgrade to business class.
» Learn more: Valuable benefits of United Airlines credit cards
How many PlusPoints are needed to upgrade United flights
The amount of PlusPoints required depends on whether your flight is short-haul or long-haul, the cabin you booked and which cabin you would like to book for your upgrade. For example, it costs 20 PlusPoints to upgrade from economy to first class on short-haul flights. Or, use 30 PlusPoints to upgrade from United premium economy to United business class on long-haul flights.
United publishes two PlusPoint reward charts — one for short-haul flights and the other for long-haul flights. Short-haul flights are flights without United Polaris business class that are:
Within the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii and premium transcontinental service.
Between the U.S. and Canada, Bogota, Central America, Caribbean, Mexico and Quito.
Between Guam and Honolulu — including island hopper service.
On short-haul flights, you'll generally have to pay 20 PlusPoints to upgrade to the next cabin. However, you'll only have to pay 10 PlusPoints to upgrade from premium economy:
Premium economy, business or first class.
All other United flights fall under the long-haul award chart — including flights between the U.S. and:
The Middle East.
The number of PlusPoints required to upgrade long-haul flights depends on the cabin and the fare class you booked:
Booking fare class
Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V, W, S, T, L, K and G.
Economy (eligible fares)
Polaris business class.
Y, B, M, E, U, H, Q, V and W.
Economy (discount fares)
Polaris business class.
S, T, L, K and G.
Polaris business class.
O, A and R.
If standard upgrade space isn't available, United Premier 1K elite members can pay even higher rates to "skip waitlist." However, you must apply these upgrades to your flights or for traveling companions on your same flight.
» Learn more: The complete guide to United MileagePlus
Using United PlusPoints on partner airlines
In addition to upgrading United flights, MileagePlus elites can use PlusPoints to upgrade flights operated by ANA, Copa and Lufthansa. Upgrades are valid to the next cabin (economy to business class; business class to first class) and cost 40 PlusPoints per flight segment.
To apply for a PlusPoints upgrade, you'll need to book an eligible fare class. Each partner airline has a slightly different list of eligible fare classes:
ANA: B, C, D, E, G, J, M, U and Y.
Copa: A, B, E, H, K, L, M, O, Q, S, T, U, V, W, Y.
Lufthansa: B, C, D, E, G, H, J, M, Q, U and Y.
» Learn more: How do I use United PlusPoints?
How to earn United PlusPoints
United PlusPoints are awarded to United Premier Platinum and 1K elite members upon earning elite status — and then as a bonus for continuing to fly United.
Upon achieving United Premier Platinum status, you'll receive 40 PlusPoints. That's enough to upgrade from economy to first class on a short-haul round-trip flight or from economy to premium economy on a long-haul round-trip.
If you reach United Premier 1K elite status, United will reward you another 280 PlusPoints. That opens the possibility of a lot of upgrades. After achieving Premier 1K status, you'll continue earning 20 PlusPoints for every 2,000 Premier Qualifying Points that you earn beyond the 15,000 PQPs required for 1K status.
By earning 19,000 PQP in a year, you'd earn a total of 360 PlusPoints (40 from earning Premier Platinum, 280 from earning Premier 1K, plus a bonus 40 for qualifying PQPs). That's enough for 18 upgrades from economy to business or first class on short-haul flights or from economy to premium economy on long-haul flights. Or you could use 360 PlusPoints to upgrade from premium economy to Polaris business class on 12 long-haul flights. Of course, you're not limited to one kind of upgrade, so you can mix and match to upgrade all types of flights.
How to use United PlusPoints
Once your flight is ticketed, you can request a PlusPoints upgrade right on United's website for flights on United, ANA or Lufthansa. However, if you booked a United codeshare flight on ANA- or Lufthansa-operated flights, you'll need to call United to request an upgrade.
United MileagePlus members with PlusPoints in their account can check for upgrade availability at the time of booking. Start an advanced search, scroll down to the "Upgrades, certificates, and promotion codes" section and select "PlusPoints Upgrade" as an option.
Waitlist your PlusPoints request
If upgrade space isn't available at the time of your request, you can join the waitlist. Only flights on United, ANA and Lufthansa are eligible to waitlist; upgrades for Copa flights can't be waitlisted.
For flights on partner airlines, United will deduct the required PlusPoints at the time of your waitlist request. PlusPoints will be automatically refunded to your account 24-48 hours after check-in if your upgrade doesn't clear.
Since your PlusPoints could be tied up for a while, pay attention to expiration dates to make sure you'll still have time to use your points if the upgrade doesn't clear.
If you're looking for how to use United PlusPoints
One of the great aspects of United PlusPoints is flexibility. You can apply PlusPoints to upgrade any United flight — from a regional hop to United's longest international flights. United even lets travelers use PlusPoints to upgrade flights on ANA, Copa or Lufthansa. And United makes it easy to search for availability and apply PlusPoints upgrades right on its website.
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